Pure And Simple

Unheralded Pennsylvanian trio conjure up more quiet magic

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Sixteen years and six albums after forming at a Catholic school production of Godspell, The Innocence Mission remain?unfairly?a largely unknown pleasure. Based around the marital harmony of chief warbler Karen Peris and guitarist hubby Don, they’re responsible for some of the most delicately transporting music of our time. Just ask Joni Mitchell, who singled out Karen as the “most interesting” of all the new singer/songwriters, inviting her onto 1991’s Night Ride Home. Or Natalie Merchant, adding a touch of Peris grace to 1998’s Ophelia. Or other collaborative admirers Julie Miller and John Hiatt.

The key to their sound is simplicity. Don’s perfectly enunciated, jazzy pickings create tone poems across which Karen’s early-bird chirp patters softly. Since second album Umbrella (1991), they’ve gradually refined this to an irresistible whisper, and the intimacy of Befriended will leave you spellbound. Aided by surviving original member Mike Bitts on upright bass (the band were initially a quartet), each of Don’s glistening guitar notes is so precisely phrased, so considered, you marvel at how easily it all flows, allowing ample room for Karen’s fragile warmth and occasional flickers of piano. Vocally, she coos like a less narcotic cousin of Hope Sandoval or The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler. Indeed, “When Mac Was Swimming” could be Wheeler doing Nico doing “The Girl From Ipanema”. The sparse “I Never Knew You From The Sun” (sooooo soft?exhaled rather than sung) is only bettered by the balmy melodies and impeccable craftsmanship of “Martha Avenue Love Song” and the lovestruck closer “Look For Me As You Go By”. For incurable romantics everywhere.

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